The minister said, in her eulogy, that if ever you were despondent you could go to Helen and she would tell you how wonderful you were. And that was true, and she was a lovely person that way. She thought everyone was wonderful, and made sure they knew it.
But you know, it actually took a little shine off, when she put it that way. Because we all, except the buddhas, have at least a little whisper of self that wants to be special. If everyone is wonderful, what does “wonderful” mean? It's another word for “ordinary.”
That itch to to be singular and special is probably the closest analog we Buddhists have to original sin. So long as I want to be better than other people, I've got to push some of them down; I want to curry favor with some and belittle others; I want to form a little circle of the best people, according to some criteria or other, and to lure some people in and push other people out. Writ large, you get the whole sorry history of the world. Writ small, you get the ongoing disasters and ruination of eros in the fields of family and friendship. It's often not such a good thing to want to be special.
All faiths take up the problem, but the Buddhist solution is perhaps the most complete and draconian. No “last shall be first” conveniently postponed humility for us. We take the more drastic step of denying that we're even distinguishable. How can you rank things if they're not even identifiably separate? The endeavor is absurd. If you're not sacred on account of having consciousness and hence buddha-nature, then – being able to type 140 words a minute, or bench press 300 lbs, or write immortal poems – or having teal as your favorite color, or rooting for the St Louis Cardinals, or pulling decisively into an intersection to make your left turn – or knowing the difference between “their” and they're,” or being too clever to identify with a major party, or understanding the difference between twill and serge – or – whatever the hell it is, everyone has their own bizarre and ridiculous list of the things that make them really special, God help them – really, can anyone think about this for more than a couple of minutes and not understand that the Buddha was right, that none of these things could actually make you valuable and precious, if the mere fact of having consciousness doesn't do it?
And what is consciousness, after all, but a cascade of thoughts and perceptions thundering down the rocks, driven on by the weight of all the stream of thoughts and perceptions of those before us, and pouring down into the little basins of the innumerable baby skulls below us? Watch a waterfall and try, try to follow a single drop run its way from the top of Multnomah Falls to the litter of debris below the bridge. That's “my” thought you're following. Sure. Give it up. It doesn't make any sense.
So what, then? If I give it up, if I give up ownership of the little eddies in my own skull-basin, halfway down the torrent, perched there among the moss and and the fume? What am I doing, what should I be doing? I am not sure, but I can very certainly say what my job is not: it is not to create water out of nothing, and it is not to persuade the other basins round about to acknowledge the specialness of the swirls of foam in my own bowl. Whatever it is – not that.